Inside the Kahnawake evictions

Editor of Kahnawake newspaper explains the Mohawk Council decision to evict non-natives


The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake recently elected to evict 26 non-natives from the reserve. The move, endorsed by all 12 chiefs of the MCK, has caused an uproar within and beyond the community of 8000 located on Montreal’s South Shore. Steve Bonspiel, the editor and co-publisher of Kahnawake newspaper Eastern Door, has been an ardent critic of the decision.

Q: We’ve read a fair bit about the eviction notices handed out to non-natives living in Kahnawake this past week. How long has the issue of non-natives been a point of contention on the reserve?

A: That depends on who you ask. The community is divided on the issue. It’s important to keep in mind that that Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) released these letters to the 26 individuals because of calls they received from 100 or so individuals. This is a community of 8000, so that’s hardly a good read on what the community thinks. They also did it without any community consultation whatsoever through a wider medium in order to reach a broader audience.

The issue goes back to 1973 when the longhouse started to evict non-native families that lived here with no ties to anyone in the community. Then it gained steam and community members, not affiliated with the longhouse, started going after people who had ties here (a spouse or children) and angry mobs visited houses to pressure people to leave. It worked and many left. These days things are different but the Mohawk Council is using these letters, and the promise of publishing the names of people who don’t heed their warning, as a way to again call on the community to put ‘peer pressure’ on these non-natives so they move. It is setting a dangerous precedent.

It’s important to note that there are hundreds of non-natives living here, not just these 26. Some have been adopted in and have little or no Mohawk blood, but they have become a part of the community. Others married into the community, have children and/or great grandchildren and they will not be targeted, according to the MCK, because they can no longer procreate. I’m not even making that part up. A number of chiefs have said that.

Q: The issue has been more or less dormant for several decades. Why do you think it flared up now?

A: The Mohawk Council actually put it out to the community, asking people to call in and identify people living here who, at least in the MCK’s mind, should not be. That’s all it took. The phone lines lit up (to a certain extent) and names came flowing in.

As a result these letters were sent out and all 12 chiefs are standing behind it. They all signed each letter and apparently they are all in agreement that this is truly what the community wants, although that is far from the truth. Not one chief has voiced concern or opposition to it, which is disheartening. They sold it as non-natives who are living here without ties, but the reality is many of the ones they sent letters to have been here for many, many years and are giving back to the community in many ways.

Q: What do you think will happen should these people decide not to leave?

A: Even the Mohawk Council can’t answer that one. I think a number of them (non-natives) will choose not to and to fight. And if that happens and if they sue to stay here—it has happened in the past—the MCK will have egg on their face because their plan, which was endorsed by a small minority, will have failed.

They talked about enforcement, but how do you go to someone’s house and tell their spouse of 20 years to leave? How do you tell a couple with two kids that they aren’t allowed to live in the community with their family because one of them is white? It goes against what our nation has been preaching for thousands of years: acceptance.

Q: As you suggest, the evictions have the makings of a court challenge, which would mean that Kahnawake would be put into a position of abiding by a Provincial/Federal court decision. Given the longstanding sovereignty issues between native and non-native communities, what do you think of the chances of this happening?

A: I think it becomes a question of human rights at a certain point. That’s how it will be argued, especially because they are trying this in the dead of winter—not great timing on the MCK’s part. Why do you think the MCK wants to use ‘peer pressure’ to get people out? Because how would they do it otherwise? Mobs like in the ’70s? The Peacekeepers [Kahnawake’s police force]? They could try those options but I don’t think it would look to good for their image and they just might find out that those non-native people living here, with or without ties, have quite a bit of support behind them.

If they keep going along this path, of targeting people that a small yet vocal portion of the community thinks should not be here, then they will surely be taken to court. I can’t see every single one of those targeted taking this lying down. And if there is one thing the MCK does not like it’s negative publicity and fighting cases they can’t win—and they are all very aware of that.


Inside the Kahnawake evictions

  1. I don't grasp the concept of "Mohawk blood." I thought the Iroquois nations were always about nationality as a shared system of ethics, rituals, institutions, etc., i.e. you could easily become Mohawk (say) if the Mohawks decided to adopt you. My understanding was that this was why the Iroquois survived the plagues of the 17th and 18th C's, by assimilating outsiders, and that this had continued for a long time if not up to the present day. But perhaps that has changed. Anyway, it looks like the 26 people being targeted for eviction / mauling are not culturally Mohawk, so I guess it's moot; but it makes me sad to see "blood" being used by the Iroquois as a criterion for inclusion.

    • "a shared system of ethics, rituals, institutions, spooning, warm fuzzy feelings, Barney the Dinosaur, etc"

      Oh shut your Lamarckian cakehole, this is straight apartheid, and you're giving it tacit approval. Shame!

  2. This is racial discrimination, pure and simple. It should be crushed. I hope the Aboriginals on the reservation have the stones and the principle to stand up to the Mohawk Council on this and protect their neighbors. If not, I recommend eliminating all legal authority for the Mohawk Council since they are essentially abusing their authority to promote racial persecution.

    As an aside, the whites are not generally "non-natives". They are Canadian-born, which makes them no less "native", by the very definition of the term, than the Aboriginals.

  3. Let it go to court then we'll see if the Indian Act still has bearing on dictating how we as First Nations live on-reserve. They can call their local indian Agent – Chuck to adminster the paper work too.

  4. And you know what? As ridiculous as this example is, it is NOT the most appalling aspect of the race-based genealogical apartheid we practice in this country.

  5. I feel kind of confused here, as a first nation person and a human being. if the land is first nations the leaders have every right to procure the land for the growing band and in those steps should be carefully planned and in order . that being said like any plan their are going to be missteps and legal hold ups. We as a country need to take a deep breath and not over react on either side.

    • That would be fair if it wasn't just non-natives that were being evicted. Or, if the non-natives were not actually being kicked off the reserve instead of just their land. Neither one of these conditions is true however so it is about racism.

      It's strange that a people that have been so abused themselves, would take up this kind of behaviour. I wonder how other bands are seeing this because, for better or worse, what one band does reflects on all.

  6. Who do you Blame? The Gov:has been Attacking Aboriginal Rights,cutting Eduacation Programs ,health & many others,But If you ask me the Truth of it All in many First Nations, their has been a lot of Drug Dealings on the Communitys Across the Country,s Communitys ,not Just Kahnawake.By Non- Natives Praying upon First Nations To Benefit for their own Interest, not To Mention,The Realilty of some Leaders Involved in the Drug Trade ,by Buying Votes with Drugs come Election Time,some leaders even have a name for this practice called "Election Addiction" giving out free Drugs to our young People,to buy Votes,So you have 2 sides to every Story,what do you do? It,s Sad for the Kids & the Elders. Some Communitys you have Non- Natives with the highest paying Jobs in the Community, many of our People get discriminated if they Speak up for any wrongs & get Blacklisted by the Band Councils Leadership,if they fight Against Illegal Activities & The Vote Buying with Drugs in this Day,which many of our People have been Complaining to the GOV: over the years &" Noth'n has been DONE" about it. I know of some Great Aboriginal Leaders such as Ellen Gabriel,that should be Involoveled in this Situation to solve this Issue,along with others that have solved the Troubles before on our Land & waters, My thoughts & prayers TO: the Community & others with this Crap I call A Gov & INAC Leadership Assimilation,I think Attacking the War On Drugs in the Communitys is Better time ever, many Aboriginal Leaders should spend more Time in Educating The World in our Communitys of how the GOV: Is Attacking Our Rights, the World is a Greedy place to live ,many of our People are suffering & living in Poverty becuase of it. you cannot bring back the old ways,but you can start by Teaching our young what is Right & Wrong, If the Gov: would give opportunitys to People in our Communitys To Lead their Communitys Honestly without the "Corruption" it would be A wise Decision To Put these People with Clean Minds & Souls To Run The Commnunitys ,But then again Greed is the Ulimate,you have the wealthy & then you have the Poor. Peace~~

    • Seems to me that the way to stop the drug dealing, smuggling, illicit tobacco "industry" and gun running that goes on in the "smuggler's paradise" of border reserves is to enforce the law independent of race. You lament the situation of "non-natives" preying on First Nations for their own interests. If true, it should not come as a surprise that criminals of all race, religion and creed would seek to "set up shop" in areas where the rule of law is suspended. Where leaders (presumably Band Council Members) can be "bought" as easily as tax free cig's.

      If the government decided to suspend and refuse to enforce the rule of law in Niagara on the Lake, even this quaint little tourist town would soon turn into another "Kahnawake" as organized crime gangs took over.

      Kicking "non-native" criminals off reserves would only serve one purpose…saving the ongoing criminal activities for criminal natives to profit from.

      Until something changes to eliminate the environment that created and fosters illegal smuggling, drug and gun running through reserves…the root problem will remain, regardless of what race the perpetrator happens to be.

  7. one will first have to eliminate the emotions such as jealousy, envy , hate which is unlikely and of the rights of reservation people including no tax smokes which is merely a condition that reservations do not pay tax. remember the land was pioneered and in return for the vast beautiful continent most or all rights included in embellished treaties which have been eroded in part by ignorance of history. government people and reserve politics. this issues provide fodder and make a few people needing ego stroking to pretend they speak and represent all reservation people….so there are issues on both sides and will take years of intent study and planning to save a million people from total annihilation which will be a international disgrace to the face of this prorogued countrys' administration some call parliament with a historically based queen as head of which is also becoming eroded with the alternative, becoming a republic! chew on that! mohawk territory is a microcosm of the country as a whole….it needs attention!

  8. According to "Littlebear" the abuse and misfortunes on Reserves are being forced upon them by "Whites" that ply their illegal activities on Reserves with un-obstructed, wholesale access to all the illegal activities that occur on Reserves. I grew up 5 minutes from a Reserve. I know that if I were to open a boozecan, or afterhours bar on the Reserve close to my home, I would have been beaten to a bloody pulp every night, if not dragged out to the bush to be fed to the bears, and have my house burned to the ground. Natives aren't too big on sharing on-Reserve business opportunitys with non-Natives, whther the business is legal or not. Typical though. Alot of Natives always seem to find it easiest to point the finger at the "Whiteman" than accept responsibility and be held accountable for their own woes.

  9. Part – 1 I wonder how this would go over if "Whites" were trying to evict Natives off of their street or out of their community. There would be total uproar by Natives and treehuggers alike. We would be called every name in the book, from the most obvious; racist and discriminatory, to hatemongers and Nazi's and ethnic cleansers. This would never be allowed if it weren't taking place on a Reserve, where our spineless politicians lack of political will is made even more apparent. Natives would be blockading highways, railways, city centers, government buildings and just about anywhere else they figured they could get their face on the front page.

  10. Simply remedy,
    no white man, woman or child shall from this day forth
    spend one red CANADIAN cent that goes into the pockets
    of the Mohawk community!

  11. History about what has already been taken by non-natives. To prove a point.
    Kahnawake was located in what was known as the Seigneurie du Sault-Saint-Louis, a 40,320-acre territory which was granted in 1680 by the French Crown to the Jesuits to "protect" and "nurture" Mohawks newly converted to Catholicism.[8] At the time of making the concession of the seigneury, the government intended the territory to be closed to European settlement. Because the Jesuits assumed rights as seigneurs of the Sault, they permitted whites to settle there and collected their rents.[9] The Jesuits managed the seigneury until April 1762, after the Seven Years War and the British assumption of rule in New France. Governor Thomas Gage ordered the reserve to be entirely and exclusively vested in the Mohawks, under the Supervision of the Indian Department.[10]

    Despite repeated complaints, land and rent mismanagement continued by the many agents hired to manage the land for the Mohawks. Non-Native encroachment increased around Kahnawake. Surveyors were found to have modified some old maps at the expense of the Kahnawake people. Moreover, the Mohawk were required to make numerous land surrenders to railway, hydro-electric, and telephone companies for major projects from the late 1880s until the 1950s.

    As a result, Kahnawake today has only 13,000 acres. The Mohawk Nation is pursuing land claims to regain lost land. The modern claim touches the municipalities of Saint-Constant, Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Mathieu, Delson, Candiac and Saint-Philippe.

    The priests gave away more than half to non-natives already. Mohawk people have a right to survive and hold on to what little is left to us.

  12. This is one main reason why I love the interview portion of articles. Thanks for sharing this Martin

  13. As John Proman said the interview portion of your article impressed me a lot.Thanks for sharing.

  14. Inside the Kahnawake evictions – Great title to discuss.Thanks for the info.

  15. Kwe,many good words you brought up but the "times they are a changing", the so called Canadian Charter of rights and everything that surrounds us, affects and influences us natives. And as for these evictions, the native people that oppose them,i guess that would depend on how close the axe was falling to them.And also friends and relatives that would be affected.As for adoptions,"i hear that a lot" not to get into a cultural debate but that is temporary and would only apply to the one person adopted not the following generations coming, and also done in the Longhouse with a consensus of the whole Nation agreeing.I know there are many different views to this.We are split down the middle with a foreign border between the Onkwehonwe with laws and influence from two giant gold and silver snakes that devour everything in their path and we also are being devoured with their influences and ideas and sadly in many cases we are helping them.
    Tho nikawennake ,i:i Rathahonni, Iaiak Ni:iohwentsiake

  16. Johnny Lee Cross , Kahnawake , is my hometown , thats where I am from . I joined the Canadian Military , and also the American side , because it is a right I have , to cross the boarder . But , What happened was a mission back in 1995 . Where some military was stationed in Kahnawake . anyways a long story short , some military stayed after the change of presidential office , and people got forgotten . some still live in the community to this day . my mission was done , and I returned to the place where I lived , but others stayed , but for what ? so if that was my ass handed to me on the eviction notice , I am apealling , because your full of shit if you saying I am a white boy … and who are the people evicted , people would like to know , so they don’t get attacked by people in the streets if we visit …

  17. also I have been on the band list , since I was seven years old ………

  18. 1990 I got my first band card , for Indian Status …….

  19. I don’t remember any other country , before this one . I was in the montreal childrens at the age of four with a calapst lung , its in the records ….

  20. I wasn’t placed with a white woman , as I flee from a destoryed country . and given a cover saying my father was a mohawk man . here is a fake birth certificate , there was none of that shit going down . my mohawk father remembers me , I even had picture of a happy home in the 80’s . if it is me your after , you should push on …….

  21. oh , they were married too , before the law changed . after 85 we left . me I am rooted …

  22. the devorce of my parents , the lawyer was from chateauguay … check the book …

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